Below is an essay I wrote meant for submission for somewhere else, but now I’m free to post here. In the spirit of the band officially forming on April 20, 1993, I meant to post closer to the anniversary of that date, but only got to it now. Enjoy.
Mary Lou Kownacki once said, “There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you’ve heard their story.” During their In a World Like This Tour two years ago, my girlfriends and I went to one of the Backstreet Boys’ 20th anniversary concerts and it was obvious the fans in attendance had grown up listening to them. We were surrounded by girls who smoked and drank beers, holding a couple of Straw-Ber-Ritas in hand ourselves. It’s true that weddings and funerals bring people together, but so does BSB. The same girlfriends and I recently reunited to watch the band’s “Show ‘Em What You’re Made of” documentary and coincidentally, BSB just released the Deluxe Edition on We Are Colony. While watching the film, it was Mary Lou Kownacki’s quote I couldn’t stop thinking of throughout the experience.
Not everyone can relate to being in a boy band or even being a fan of a boy band, but everyone can relate to having a dream and the passion to go after it. For anyone who has something they want to accomplish, BSB is an inspiration. The documentary gives a candid look inside the lives of each BSB member, from starting out as kids dreaming of performing on stage in front of a huge crowd to becoming a popular band in Europe selling millions of records to cursing each other out through the struggles the band faces while working on a new album. Each band member started out as a boy, but there is no doubt they have all matured into Backstreet Men.
Watching this movie with my girlfriends helped us bond while laughing at the goofballs that we didn’t know the boys were, wishing we could go back in time when the boys were just starting out. Nick admitted the band began as a manufactured boy band and there were a lot of stereotypes associated with that, but like Pinocchio, they became a real band. We could see the progression from having everyone else telling them what to do and what to say to 20 years later, making their own record and thinking for themselves. We watched them call Howie “Twinkle Toes,” Brian and Nick “Frick and Frack,” and A.J. model his “Drive” jacket. They love to play basketball, especially Nick and Brian, and when their manager at the time, Lou Pearlman, first put the group together, they made $75 per week. When talking about when they first started out, A.J. said, “This makes sense. Our voices blend perfectly.”
But with every journey, there are road bumps along the way and one of BSB’s biggest challenges is getting Brian’s voice back on track. Brian has been diagnosed with vocal tension dysphonia, a condition that adds stress on his vocal cords, making it hard for him to get the same sound he used to be known for, jeopardizing his part as one of the band’s lead singers. When discussing his voice, he said, “I just want to be me,” and you can hear how frustrated he’s been, dealing with the inconsistency in the function of his voice. Meanwhile, even though Lou was like a father figure to the boys, especially for Kevin, who was able to quit his multiple jobs at Walt Disney World to do what he loves to do full-time, they find out Lou hadn’t been truthful to them and end up filing a lawsuit against him for stealing most of their earnings.
The fact that the boys can openly cry in front of each other and hug each other to show love and support whether it’s Kevin talking about his dad’s cancer or Nick talking about being bullied in school for being an odd kid shows not just how brotherly close they are, but how human they are. They may be pop stars, but first and foremost they are people with emotions and real problems: weight gain, drug addiction, alcohol abuse, depression, a “bad boy” phase, and a lawsuit just to name a few. They have said things to each other ranging from “you are dead to me” to “I know what you’ve been through.” They started out doing free shows before getting a record deal, performing at grade schools across the country, proving that they can sing a cappella “at the drop of a hat.” In a music world saturated with auto-tune, it’s comforting to know these guys can sing for real.
Yet the thing that will get to you the most is watching each BSB go back and recognizing their music and dance teachers. These teachers saw them as boys who needed an escape, as students who were learning how to dance, and as singers who had heavenly gifts to share with the world. Those teachers knew back then and looking at the Backstreet Boys now, who would deny it? To answer their own question, the Backstreet Boys are made of persistence, resilience, friendship, brotherhood, authenticity, and family. Most of all, they are overcomers, and you can’t help but like them for it.
The story opened with the boys hiking up a hill and ended with them making it to the top together, all in one piece despite doubts and challenges while climbing the rocks. It is very much a metaphor of their careers. Like ‘em or not, BSB played a huge part in forming the music of the ‘90s and it’s pretty clear they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. Many groups have come and gone, but Kevin has come back for good now and over 20 years later they are still making music together, this time around with more instrumentals and writing their own songs on their own record label. The journey is by no means over and there’s still a lot of healing and baggage to deal with, but one thing’s for certain—there’s never been a better time to say Backstreet’s back, alright!